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A letter from Thomas Goetz in Japan

October 2012

The 2012 Christmas Charity Concert is in the works

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away   Revelation 21:4.

The Scripture passage is one from my list of the Bible’s “Top 40.” If you recall, it was featured in the movie Titanic.  Such powerful imagery, the Almighty, as if setting aside power and grandeur, comes to relate to us as a caregiver, comforter, and trusted friend.  What a refreshing and affirming surprise from the various other images of God amid cinematic theophanies.

A long-term mission volunteer for the PC(USA), I have been serving in Japan for about 25 years.  I am pleased to announce that together with my wife, Hideko, and a core group of friends, we are organizing for a third year in a row a dramatization of Oscar Wilde's "The Happy Prince" to benefit disadvantaged children in and around Sapporo.  This idea came to us a few years ago as our way of setting into action the lyrics of the popular Christian song, "Pass It On." Through our event we wish to draw attention to helping those in need.

It only takes a spark to get a fire going.
And soon all those around will warm up to its glowing.
That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it.
You share his love, with everyone, you want to pass it on. 

Nice song, but I would like to ask you, what does it take, from a PC(USA) standpoint, to get this song rolling over here?  Or, how can a “kid from Milwaukee” start something new and halfway around the world that benefits Christians and non-Christians alike? 

The answer is found in one word, ecumenics.  Let’s unpack the word to find out what it means and its use in our time.

Ecumenism refers to Jesus’ disciples being together, as they were in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, amid the waves, with the Savior. We are not to worry, despite the whitecaps.  We are to trust and obey, lay aside our fears.  Fears?  The disciples were in fear of death by drowning.  What are those fears for us?  For me? It’s the fear of being misunderstood, dismissed with a “typical American idea,” the fear of being labeled “not Christian enough” and on and on.  Being ecumenical means we have to trust that the Lord is with us while we are in an uncertain situation.

For me, the word ecumenics means the following. 

E is for Enthusiasm. Optimism and hope for all situations that share the joy of life in Christ. 

C is for Community.  Wherever we live, we live in an ecumenical community, be it local or global.  Count on your community of friends.

U is for Unity.  United in Spirit and united in service.

M is for Medias.  Nothing is going to happen unless we are willing to find a common ground.

E is for Energy.  An energy that is infectious as it relates to seeking understanding, finding ways to set into action God’s love.

N is for New.  When people live in the same city for years on end, it is possible to become blind to the situations in need of care and attention and not see new ways to approach old problems.

I is for Insights. Place a PC(USA) mission co-worker in any situation with a new set of eyes and suddenly the old and familiar problems are seen in ways that are prayerfully conceived, theologically informed, lived out with careful discipleship. 

C is for Christ.  We are nothing without the Risen Lord whose life and ministry informs, teaches, inspires, and guides.

S is for Service. Not for ourselves, but for all of God’s children in need, whether it is a need for education, a place to live in a simple and decent home, a place to worship according to one’s free will and choosing, a place to grow up in light of parents who have failed as parents, a time to live life in as much abundance as possible when days are short due to illness and disease.  

This is what ecumenics means to me. 

What we have to offer as a national-level church is an ecumenical approach that gets things done. This did not happen overnight, but rather over decades. This is also a matter of envy by other missionaries I run into here in Japan on a regular basis.  Conversely, I have always been critical of people who are dismissive about our world and all its problems, saying, “That’s just the way it is,” and “It’s that way because it’s due to what has already happened before,” “It can’t be helped...”

To such people, I only have this to say:

The Lord never gives us irreconcilable problems. 

By supporting Presbyterian (U.S.A.) World Mission, you support my work and many more not only financially, but spiritually. With your support of World Mission through your financial gifts and prayers, the team of The Office of Ecumenical Relations of the United Protestant Church Japan, Hokusei Gakuen University, the Hokkai District of the United Protestant Church, and many friends, Christian and non-Christian alike, are able to make a difference in the lives of people for whom happiness is either in short supply, or just not even there. 

On a local level, here in Sapporo, together with friends and members of our wide ecumenical circle, we seek to make a positive difference in the lives of children who are either already in society’s safety net or diagnosed with a terminal disease and cannot expect to live the span of a normal life. 

Christmas charity concert poster

The 2012 Christmas Charity Concert is a combination of all levels of ecumenical involvement.  But let’s start from the view of a non-Christian who has never been to church, who would like to be part of an event that helps make the world a better place.  Our concert works in cooperation with the Make-A-Wish–Japan, Sapporo Office and the Sapporo Project Santa. Everyone agrees that Christmas needs to be a happy time for everyone, and so we ask all those who can, to help. 

Our team includes local professional musicians and performers who receive modest compensation, mainly to cover their costs related to the rehearsal hall and equipment rentals. Without them, we would not have such a quality and theological event.  “The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde is our mainstay because of its core message that it is better to give than receive.  Here is a link to see our first production: http://archive.org/details/The_Happy_Prince.

Who will benefit?  The Make-A-Wish Foundation–Japan, Sapporo Office.  MAWJ helps to make dreams come true for children who are terminally ill. When a family is informed that their child has an incurable disease with only a limited time to live, Make-A-Wish steps in to realize the child's dream. Families from all over Japan have come to Sapporo to see their son or daughter play in the snow. These families can't do it alone. Make-A-Wish helps.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation–Japan has Presbyterian roots.  The idea was introduced by a longtime Presbyterian mission co-worker and personal friend, Timothy Boyle.  Presently he is retired from the PC(USA) in Japan.  Hideko and I originally learned about MAW-J from our daughter, Heidi, who as a high school student decided to do some volunteer work through its Sapporo office.  In short, an arrangement was made for her to spend a couple of afternoons with a little girl from a tropical part of Japan, to play in the snow and build a snowman. 

During that time, it all seemed so fun and happy.  Heidi taught everyone how to build a snowman, make snow angles, and pack snowballs.  Then, within the year, a letter came informing us of the girl’s passing.  On the one hand, Heidi is to be congratulated for giving of her time and energy, but on the other hand, how much the little girl taught Heidi and us—just how precious the gift of life is and what a difference the Make-A-Wish Foundation–Japan makes in the lives it touches.

On the other side of the needs spectrum is the Sapporo Project Santa. SPS raises money and purchases presents for children who live in four group homes in Hokkaido. Sad as it is, the slow economy and troubles with substance, spouse, and child abuse render all too many families in Japan unable to live together. Nearly all of the children do have parents.  They are not orphans. Every year, as Christmas nears, the children in these homes wonder if Santa will come. He came last year, and he will come this year. Will you help him to fill his sack with presents? In fact, this project is about 30 years old. 

Phred Kaufman - the Jewish Santa

The group homes are independently run by a variety of sponsors. One is run by the Anglican Church of Japan, another is run by a Buddhist sect, while another is run by a railroad corporation (a very interesting story that I will write about in a future mission letter), and the last one is secular.  Santa, by the way, is not me, but a longtime dear friend from Hollywood, California, a longtime resident of Sapporo, Phred Kaufman—and as you may infer from his name, he is Jewish.  A Jewish Santa?  What can I say?  This is Japan!

We are faced with another challenge, relief for victims of the March 11, 2010,  east Japan earthquake and tsunami. Many of you have assisted already, and our sincere thanks. 

How can you spark happiness in people who are facing difficulties that few of us can imagine?  Please consider a contribution by way of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) World Mission. This is a part of my ministry, and I would love to include you in this partnership. Your contributions will support our engagement with this wonderful ecumenical ministry, enabling local participants here to feel welcome in fellowship and to receive the benefit of our unity of Spirit and service. Please visit my page on the PC(USA) website: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/missionconnections/goetz-thomas/ to learn more about our ministry and how to contribute.

Let’s look to the future.  On December 8at 2:00 pm at one of Sapporo’s flagship churches, many non-Christians will enter the sanctuary for the first time in their life.  They will see “The Happy Prince” performed to high artistic and exacting standards.  During an intermission they will see and bid on many fine and useful items just in time for the holidays.  Later another musical group will provide entertainment for the second half.  Who else is in the crowd? Christians will be there as guests or volunteers.  Pray for a happy time.  Pray for new friendships.  Pray for invitations to church.  Pray that the lyrics to the Christian song “Pass It On” acquires a pulse.  This is how the church grows in Japan.  When Christians invite their friends to church, seeds that are somehow planted already begin to take root. 

 

I wish for you my friend, this happiness that I’ve found.

You can depend on him, it matters not where you’re bound.

I’ll shout it from the mountain top!  I want my world to know.

The Lord of love, has come to me, I want to pass it on!

 

Ubi caritas, et amor, Deus ibi est.  Wherever there is caring and love, God is always there. 

 

Tom Goetz

Thomas H. Goetz M.Div. M.Ed.
Professor of English
School of Social Welfare
Hokusei Gakuen University
Oyachinishi 2-3-1 Atsubetsu-ku
Sapporo  004-8631  JAPAN

The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 200

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